Pulmonary effects of inhaled cannabis smoke

Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2019;45(6):596-609. doi: 10.1080/00952990.2019.1627366. Epub 2019 Jul 12.


Background: The smoke generated from cannabis delivers biologically active cannabinoids and a number of combustion-derived toxins, both of which raise questions regarding the impact of cannabis smoking on lung function, airway inflammation and smoking-related lung disease.Objectives: Review the potential effects of cannabis smoking on respiratory symptoms, lung function, histologic/molecular alterations in the bronchial mucosa, smoking-related changes in alveolar macrophage function and the potential clinical impact of cannabis smoking on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and pulmonary infections.Methods: Focused literature review.Results: The carcinogens and respiratory toxins in cannabis and tobacco smoke are similar but the smoking topography for cannabis results in higher per-puff exposures to inhaled tar and gases. The frequency of chronic cough, sputum and wheeze and the presence of airway mucosal inflammation, goblet cell and vascular hyperplasia, metaplasia and cellular disorganization are similar between cannabis smokers and tobacco smokers. Cannabis smoke has modest airway bronchodilator properties but of unclear clinical significance. While clear evidence exists for progression to obstructive lung disease and emphysema in chronic tobacco smokers, the effects from habitual cannabis use are less clear. Evidence suggests that alveolar macrophages from cannabis smokers have deficits in cytokine production and antimicrobial activity not present in cells from tobacco smokers.Conclusions: Solid conclusions regarding the respiratory consequences of regular cannabis smoking are difficult to make due to a relative paucity of literature, confounding by concurrent tobacco smoking and reports of conflicting outcomes. Additional well-controlled clinical studies on the pulmonary consequences of habitual cannabis use are needed.

Keywords: Cannabis; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; lung cancer; pulmonary function; smoke.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / etiology
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Lung / drug effects
  • Lung Diseases / etiology*
  • Lung Diseases / physiopathology
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / pathology
  • Marijuana Smoking / adverse effects
  • Marijuana Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Tobacco Smoking / adverse effects
  • Tobacco Smoking / epidemiology*